Published at patheos.com/blogs/spiritchatter on July 11, 2013
It’s been twenty-five years, and words spoken after our first miscarriage still rankle. People didn’t know when to shut up when faced with our misery, so they dispensed silly vending machine formulas—a Snickers Bar, a bag of chips, a God-has-a-purpose box of cheap theology and pop psychology.
Like Job’s companions on the ash heap, like his self-appointed comforters among the shards of broken pots, they always had something to say.
Comforter 1: “There’s nothing to worry about, it will work out the next time around.” Our response? It didn’t. Not the next time either. Or the time after that.
Comforter 2: “God needed your baby to be a cherub in heaven.” Our response? What a sadistic god.
Comforter 3: “You’re every woman’s worst nightmare.” Priscilla’s response? Really?! You would say this to my face?
Oh, how we wanted them to leave us alone, to trudge away, taking their false hope and piss-poor theology with them.
In the mess of dashed dreams, bewilderment, embarrassment, sadness, even the question, “Did we do something wrong?” our alleged comforters felt duty-bound to jabber indefensible promises, to utter stupid statements about what God needs, to express their own worst nightmares. They meant well, we knew, but their words only sharpened the pain.
What we share with Merryn and Sheridan Voysey, at least what we know of them from their new book Resurrection Year, is a world of words—a war with words, really. After their decade-long ordeal of failed IVF (in vitro fertilization) and aborted attempts at adoption, they settle in Oxford, far from their native Australia. One Sunday a man in church speaks a word of prophecy to them, “The Lord wants to say this to you …” The Lord. This is a heady claim. You can almost see Sheridan recoil—at least we did—as years of wrong words flood his memory. “Now he has our attention,” Sheridan writes, “though we’re not without caution, as we’ve had ‘prophecies’ given to us before” (148). There’s the vision of their actually having a baby. Wrong. Words about a jigsaw puzzle: “God fitting us with an adoptive child in due time.” Wrong. The image of a womb at a prayer meeting for the barren couple. Wrong again.
Why couldn’t these comforters keep visions, images, promises to themselves? Why fill such a fragile pair with words so confidently spoken but so painfully wrong?
Why put everything into words?
Stumbling upon Silence
There is an arc to Resurrection Year. Slowly words subside as the struggle to have a child wanes. Words, for the most part, are replaced by silence.
Sheridan begins to stumble upon silence late in the book—not a small feat for a radio broadcaster! He meditates on Jesus’ final hours, when “it was the silence of God he experienced in Gethsemane” (174).
He remembers too the time when Merryn admits to friends, “I can’t have my dream” (190). “There’s a moment of empathic silence around the table,” he writes, “then Merryn shares the story that our dinner companions only know in outline—the story of our wilderness journey, our Christmas tragedy, and our move to England to start again. Sometimes shocked, often saddened, Adrian and Bridget acknowledge the pain without trying to fix or explain it.”
There’s a moment of empathic silence.
The power of Resurrection Year doesn’t lie in Merryn’s theological explanation of evil—why bad things happen to good people—as she and Sheridan wrestle with God in the Swiss Alps during their sojourn at L’Abri.
The epiphany doesn’t burst on the scene through the mouths of Oxford professors or the man in the church with a word of prophecy.
The climax doesn’t arrive in the mail with a contract from a big-time publisher.
No. The heart and soul of Resurrection Year for a couple of black and blue saints like us takes place on a living room couch in a small, rented apartment. You might just read past it if you’re not careful. Their perky and pleasant neighbor Amanda brings over her newborn. After she leaves, Sheridan walks in and finds Merryn “sniffing, dabbing her eyes with a tissue” (182). “There is nothing to say. I just hold her.”
There is nothing to say. I just hold her.
The broadcaster turned silent. The writer gone speechless. Yet in that moment, he speaks an incarnate, embodied word without a word.
There is nothing to say. I just hold her.
For more insight into Resurrection Year, visit the Patheos Book Club at https://www.patheos.com/Books/Book-Club/Sheridan-Voysey-Resurrection-Year.html
For a window into our experiences of miscarriage, read “Welcome, Black and Blue Saints” at https://www.patheos.com/blogs/spiritchatter/2013/05/welcome-black-and-blue-saints/